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2019, Predicted

2019 Predicted
Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh
Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

... in a thematically fitting list of 19 items, no less! Here are the people, issues, and stories to keep an eye on in the coming year

1 . Steve Sisolak walks the tightrope: He’ll be the first Democratic governor since Bob Miller left office in 1999. And he’ll have the largest Democratic majority in the Legislature in memory. The pressure will be on to deliver on the Democratic agenda. But the moderate Sisolak also has one eye on the elections of 2020 that will determine who will draw new district boundaries after the 2021 census. So, he will not want to a) jeopardize his second term, and b) jeopardize Democratic majorities needed to pass Democrat-friendly redistricting maps. Watch for him to try to rein in the progressive wing of the party that believes it just hit the lottery.


2. Will Lake Mead hit 1,075 feet? It’s currently at 1,078 feet, one of the lowest points in its history. If it drops just three more feet — likely, say hydrologists — it’ll trigger rationing for the states that depend on the Colorado River. It won’t affect us directly, since Nevada uses less than its allotment, but everyone in the system would feel the pain to some degree.

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3. 2018 was the year sports betting became legal nationwide. Seven states have already jumped into the game, and 22 more are in line. How will this affect Nevada? We’ll likely start getting a clear answer this year, but it’s worth noting that in September, Nevada took in $571 million in wagers and retained $56 million — both all-time records.


4. A blue Legislature: Democrats know  that they might have a better chance of passing certain bills (buy-in to Medicaid, gun background checks, higher renewable portfolio standards) that were vetoed during Brian Sandoval’s terms. But we should also watch for issues, such as energy choice, to return to the Legislature, as the just-defeated Question 3 backers try to wrest some control from NV Energy’s monopoly even as more companies use a two-decades-old law to leave the utility and seek power elsewhere.


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5. Will this year finally see a North Strip comeback? New operators are being sought for the shuttered Lucky Dragon, and SLS’s new owners pledged $100 million for a revamp. The Fontainebleau and Echelon sites are becoming The Drew and Resorts World, slated for 2020. And the Convention Center’s expansion will bring it onto Strip frontage in the footprint of the former Riviera.


6. The Las Vegas Aviators (formerly the Las Vegas 51s) play their home opener April 9 at Las Vegas Ballpark in Downtown Summerlin. The new suburban home suggests a promising new chapter for the Triple-A franchise: As of late November, the Aviators had already sold more than 2,000 season tickets.

Andres Kudack/AP Photo

7. Go Knights … Go? The Knights’ sophomore season got off to a rocky start, leaving VGK clinging to their playoff lives as the new year begins. We’ll be biting our nails as the regular season winds down. Brace yourselves — we could be headed for a hockey-less spring.

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Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

8. Catherine Cortez Masto takes center stage: After two years of a freshman Senate term, the Nevada Democrat is now the senior senator from Nevada, and head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. It’s a startling rise, but Cortez Masto’s caution, discipline, and a fairly favorable Democratic map in 2020 will get a boost out of the two-year appointment, which starts in 2019.


9. If cryptocurrency millionaire Jeffrey Berns is for real, his proposed 67,000-acre Blockchains site in Northern Nevada will weave AI, nanotech, and 3-D printing with the public blockchain to create a techtopia — and join Tesla, Apple, and Google on the roster of companies transforming Nevada’s desert and economy. Berns hopes to break ground in late 2019.


10. Virtual reality attractions will have a big year on the Strip. In August at Linq Promenade, Kind Heaven will use holographic mixed-reality with vibrant sets, sound, and smell to send guests to a fantastical Southeast Asia. At Bally’s, Vegas VR just launched three VR experiences for groups: space saga The Arrival, whodunit The Poisoner, and action game MATCH.


11. Yes, the 2020 election is nearly two years away. But serious candidates will start seeding early-caucus Nevada with operatives and organizations in 2019. (Elizabeth Warren has reportedly already dispatched someone to the state to start setting up for her presidential run.) Watch for campaigns to heat up after the 2019 Legislature adjourns.


12. Watch for the return of both the vibey restaurant bar and the (dare we say it?) ultralounge. Setting the scene with a curated soundtrack (and the occasional DJ), trendy restaurant bars (NoMad, Cleaver) and a modern breed of posh cocktail lounges (Elektra, Rosina) offer a stylish alternative to nightclubs; expect the trend to grow in 2019.

Jordan Strauss/Invision

13. All signs point to Vegas arts, culture, and entertainment continuing to level up in 2019. 2018 was itself noteworthy: The Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art landed Yayoi Kusama’s installations — fresh from The Broad in Los Angeles. Life Is Beautiful’s lineup was better than ever — smart, diverse, relevant. Even our residencies got hip — goodbye Cher, hello  Lady Gaga.  This year, there’s the opening of the Lucy, a literary condo/bookstore/coffeeshop Downtown. There’s the October 2019 opening of Area 15, a bazaar and “experiential mall” produced by New Mexico art and entertainment collective Meow Wolf on the old Scandia park on Rancho Drive and Sirius Avenue.


14. But wait, there’s more. Nearly three decades in the making, Chinatown has leapfrogged well beyond being a glorified strip mall. Today’s Chinatown is a three-mile stretch of bars, coffee- and tea-houses, foodie haunts, live music, and gambling. And the Arts District Downtown is coming into its own, too: What was once a maze of traffic cones has emerged as an inviting place to park the car on a Friday night and while away several hours. 2019 will be its year.

15. UNLV at a crossroads: The awkward departure of Len Jessup in its rear-view mirror, and an acting president at the wheel, UNLV drives into 2019 in search of permanent leadership. A nascent medical school, a new R1 (“very high research activity”) designation from Carnegie, several campus building initiatives, and a mammoth stadium for a perpetually beleaguered football program await a new chief Rebel.

16. Speaking of the medical school: The Medical District will come into its own in 2019. The city is using infrastructure improvements to add some shine to what will (hopefully) be the home of the new UNLV Medical School. With schools come students, and with students comes housing and services.

17. What of Gov. Brian Sandoval, leaving office after two terms, warmly regarded by both parties? Could an academic position augment an already impressive résumé? His new wife is a Las Vegas gaming executive, so expect a bigger presence in the south and a steady gaze on the next chapter for the 55-year-old.

18. With longtime pot proponent Tick Segerblom moving from the Legislature to the Clark County Commission, how will the recreational marijuana industry grow in Southern Nevada? Gaming corporations want nothing to do with the industry, but it probably won’t be long before lounges make their way to the Strip.

19. Project Neon should wrap by this summer, bringing smoother traffic flows, electronic signs, smarter on- and off-ramps, and a reconfigured Charleston Boulevard interchange. Carpoolers will be rewarded with bypass and flyover ramps, and the aesthetics of the project actually look pretty nice. Hooray, infrastructure!

Scott Dickensheets is a Las Vegas writer and editor whose trenchant observations about local culture have graced the pages of publications nationwide.
Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.
Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.